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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Bruno/Mesa: Maybe this time immigration reform will happen

Guest Commentary

President Barack Obama’s second term is but weeks old and his “to do” list is growing.

Reducing gun violence. Managing the “fiscal cliff” and budget sequestration. Raising the debt ceiling to pay the nation’s bills. ...

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President Barack Obama’s second term is but weeks old and his “to do” list is growing.

Reducing gun violence. Managing the “fiscal cliff” and budget sequestration. Raising the debt ceiling to pay the nation’s bills.

And, now, following his major address in Nevada last month, comprehensive immigration reform and dealing with the 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S.

Given the shifting national demographics and abundant head scratching following the huge Republican loses in the 2012 elections, now is the right time for reform.

Immigration reform is a monumental undertaking, which requires both parties to work together to remedy our broken immigration system. 

The president’s plan for immigration reform is similar to the bipartisan Senate blueprint presented days earlier.  

Both plans focus on a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants, along with overhauling major parts of our broken immigration system. As both parties warn, the U.S. is losing talent and professionals to other countries because of our antiquated laws.   

The president’s approach frees up outdated country quotas, promises to make the sluggish immigration system more efficient, calls on employers to verify that workers are in the U.S. legally, promotes family unity, and opens the field for investors and innovators to have less arduous entry to the country.

These steps are good for America. They make us more competitive in the global economy and renew America’s promise as the land of opportunity and protector of human rights.

To open a pathway to citizenship, both plans call for background checks, payment of a penalty and back taxes, learning English, and getting in back of the line in order to obtain residency.

Both plans estimate it would take eight years before new applicants would achieve permanent residency, then another five years for citizenship. 

If we use the back-of-the-line model, there are visas pending since 1992. Unless our broken immigration system is fixed, this estimated eight-year wait could take much longer.

The GOP and the president differ on enforcement. Since 2008, Obama has deported about 1.5 million immigrants, about half of whom were dangerous criminals, which is more than under the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush combined.

Unfortunately, some want to make the pathway to citizenship contingent on further border security. 

In other words, if the legislation were passed with this language, even if the undocumented immigrant has passed all the requirements to become a resident, he or she would have to wait until the border is sealed. Basically, the immigrant’s future is being held hostage.  

How realistic is this? The border cannot ever be 100 percent sealed off despite unlimited use of surveillance drones, the National Guard, a 20-foot-high concrete fence and more border guards.

Fortunately, the flow of illegal immigration north is now reversed, thanks to the use of stepped-up enforcement and increased opportunity in Mexico. 

It is particularly curious to listen to some conservatives call for reduced spending – while at the same time press for more money for drones, a 2,000-mile fence, a militarized border and a ramped up deportation machine – when current enforcement is work-

Here’s a note to the GOP: If it wants to revive its image and win back the Latino vote, it needs to get on board with comprehensive immigration reform with no strings attached. Surely, the GOP does not want to be stalling on this issue, as the 2014 elections approach.

Ultimately, this proposed legislation not only would strengthen existing enforcement laws, but it would offer 11 million undocumented immigrants a share of the American Dream.  

It could actually happen this time.

George Bruno is the former U.S. ambassador to Belize and founding member of Americans by Choice. Enrique Mesa is an immigration reform activist. Both are attorneys with LawServe, a Manchester-based immigration law firm.